By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—A group of middle-aged men in Halstead pulled their baseball bats out of the closet last weekend and stepped back out onto the field for a good cause. The Halstead High School softball team hosted its first-annual home run derby fundraiser last Sunday afternoon.
Steven Shields won the event, hitting three out of 10 balls over the fence and then besting Tony Morris and Heath Holzrichter in a three-way tiebreaker.
“It was a lot of fun,” Shields said. “The wind was challenging.”
He’s competed in home run derbies in the past, but this was his first time winning.
“I play some softball throughout the year,” he added.
He warmed up a little before the event.
“My boy threw me some soft toss in the back of the fence for five minutes or so,” Shields said. “I just came out to goof off for the fundraiser.”
He said he’d absolutely compete again next year.
Shields’ prize was a wooden trophy made by Ryan Carmichael, whose daughter, Rylee, is a sophomore on the team.
Shields originally hit the most home runs, but softball players were in the outfield robbing home runs. When they did this, they could choose which competitor to give a point to, which is what helped Morris and Holzrichter tie it up. Morris finished second in the tiebreaker and Holzrichter third.
“It was rough,” Holzrichter said. “I haven’t hit a softball in a long time.”
He’s competed in home run derbies in Burrton in the past, but they use baseballs instead of softballs, which makes a difference, he said. Like Shields, he said the wind had been a factor.
“You could kill it and the ball wouldn’t go,” he said.
He didn’t do anything to prepare for the derby.
“Just came out here and started swinging,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was the first year they’d had it. It’s a good way to earn money.”
His daughter, Sydney, is a freshman on the team. He said he’d probably do the home run derby again as long as she’s playing.
Sydney said she thought the event was pretty fun.
“I caught a couple and I fell on one,” she said.
One of the balls she caught was hit by her dad. She said her teammate, Kaci Young, helped spot her and warn her about the fence as she kept her eye on the ball.
Other participants in the home run derby were Ryan Linton, Mark Cyre, Shane Whitmer, Lance Cardwell, Scott Church and Michael Davison. Assistant coach Wendell Donaldson also hit for fun.
“We did have two others that wanted to be here, but with the change of date, they couldn’t make it,” head softball coach Eileen Vlamis said. “I’m excited for next year. I think it’s just going to keep growing.”
The event was originally scheduled for March 6, but was postponed due to icy weather that day.
Because of the headwind, they counted balls hit over the snow fence as home runs, rather than balls over the back fence, as originally planned.
Vlamis said they had some dads participate who hadn’t swung a bat in years, but they participated to support the team and have fun. She liked the energy she saw out of her players in the outfield.
“It was really fun to see the change in the girls when their dad was hitting,” Vlamis said.
The event had also been open to women, but none of the moms ended up participating.
“We didn’t really have a lot of moms interested,” Vlamis said. “I tried to get some alumni players, but they’re all in college and different things, and it didn’t line up with the dates. I’m hoping if we keep doing this, we do get more alumni come back to fill that girls division.”
She also hoped more baseball dads will participate in the future. Michael Davison was the only one this year.
Proceeds from the home run derby fundraiser will help with equipment purchases and team bonding activities. Softball players were planning to attend at softball game at Wichita State this Wednesday.
Vlamis said next year, they may wait later in the season to hold the event for more favorable weather or maybe even toy with the idea of doing it in the fall.